Travelling When Broken: A Memoir
I am sobbing as surreptitiously as I can in a scungy Indonesian bathroom, clutching two strawberry daiquiris bigger than my head. My cleavage is blistering beneath someone else’s Bintang and outside, Rihanna is shrieking at some fleshy Western youths to “WOOOOORK!” as they jump frantically under orange strobes.
I want to stab myself in the eye with a biodegradable fork, or sink down into the dark depths of the Indian Ocean, a silent and unassuming mollusk, hiding comfortably in that soft salty womb forevermore.
“SNAP OUT OF IT SISTER,” I roar at myself. “YOU ARE IN THE INDONESIAN ARCHIPELAGO. YOU HAVE SUNK THREE PINK DRINKS. YOU ARE NOT ONE OF THE BALI NINE. PLEASE GET OVER YOURSELF.”
But, alas. I can’t.
I found out something horrible about my parents on the night Trump was elected. Damn straight ABC News – that was a night to remember. There was something oddly comforting about the entire world getting on my grief wavelength: the wailing Hilary t-shirt wearers, the funereal meme reels.
Before 2016, I had a happy multicultural family who cooked vegetarian stews and played acoustic guitar in the garden reasonably regularly. But life is often a little bitch, and you can’t always get what you want. How right you are Sir Mick Jagger. How right you are.
Following The Event, I flailed in a cesspit of angsty despair for three weeks, looking angrily out of the window of inner-city buses and weeping despondently at 2am to Bon Iver. Once this started getting a bit boring, I booked a flight to Bali for a Global Hobo workshop, ready to eat, pray and love the shit out of my broken identity and nauseating footing on the precipice of my life.
When I touched down in Denpasar, I was chuffed: no regrets, no returns baby. Australia lay silent on the other side of the ocean. Emails could be fielded, phone calls blanked. Nobody knew who I was.
While travelling, one can be whomever they please: a Muscovite heiress, a convicted felon from Arizona. The possibilities are endless, and there’s nothing out there but the Australian Federal Government, your increasingly anxious mum and your very obvious lack of a Russian accent to blow your cover.
At first, lots of hot surfers and turquoise pools were enough to make me think I’d hacked the system. All my panicking woes were deleted after being bombarded with satay tofu and other shiny distractions.
Ah, escapism, you flighty temptress.
Unfortunately, this dissatisfied correspondent must inform you that such an attitude is very stupid and unsustainable, much like the Adani reef project. One ends up crying alone on a black beach, looking imploringly at an alien Asian moon for answers, while hosting a soul polluted with noxious oily sediments.
I realised that I couldn’t run away from myself. All the pain was a part of me, attached by cells and sinew and ancestral memory, and it demanded to be felt, no matter how many times I desperately told it to rack off or tried to anaesthetise it with $4 red wine.
Being severed from lattes and old friends and well-trodden pavement graffiti, all those complacent homey rhythms, while dealing with the worst part of your life, can be challenging. In Bali, more often than not, I felt like a lost Greenlandic baby seal: vulnerable to poaching, squishy and panicked as fuck.
I’d be gobbling something deep fried or talking to a beautiful man about whales, when I’d be hit by a rogue rush of grief, madly whirling out of my skeleton. Being away from home when this happened made me feel like a contestant on Naked and Afraid, skin bared and trembling in an evil jungle, with my deepest desire to don a comforting merino wool bodysuit and lie face down on my living room carpet, groaning rhythmically.
But the thing that travelling does in such moments is make you present. Without sounding too cheesy, it generally speaking can give you scope and space, unless you’re doing a week-long Contiki bus tour of Europe’s 50 best electro-tech clubs.
Because when you are voyaging, you pursue beauty.
Whether that be a dreamy Brazilian in a hostel kitchen or a moment of tremulous transcendence while looking at the Himalayas at sunset, you are cracked open and see this little blue planet for what it truly is – an obscure immensity, overflowing with innumerable possibilities and bazillions of people, all with their own sorrows and triumphs. It is a place so much bigger than your own musty bedroom or that poisonous space in your head. Antarctica is out there, the rolling Amazonian rainforest, white beluga whales. It is a wild and untameable place, and yet so magnificent in its magnitude.
Marcel Proust once said that “negligence deadens desire”, and it’s no argument that this chap knew what was up. Beauty should always be hungrily sought out, because it moves you beyond your little self.
I remember stumbling out of that hot club in Bali and running onto the beach across the street. While looking at scavenging street dogs and Scandinavians aggressively hooking up, I felt more disconnected than pretty much any other time in my life. And yet the stars were still there. They grabbed my heart in their shimmered hands and winked me back into reality. I knew, while looking up, that my life would go on.
In Tasmania recently, after a year of chemical public transport and spilling coffee down myself in French lectures, I was hiking and came across a little rocky grotto. Perched above some glassy fat water and shimmering scribbly gums, I started sobbing uncontrollably without any sadness. Despite my best mates thinking I had officially lost it, healing, and the courage to continue flooded my heart chambers. An actual fecking dolphin arched up in one glimmered instant, and the gentle beauty of the world woke me up. I realised that pain passes. Always. We are constantly in flux, and no darkness lasts forever.
Suffering is an unfortunate yet imperative part of the fabric that makes up our lives. Awe, amazement, the terribly beautiful swoop of self-realisation: it’s the flipside of that rusty gold coin, and it’s executed best when you’re not stumbling outside your local pub, brain nerves numb with overpriced vodka and mediocrity.
Mary Oliver, queen of my heart, in her poem ‘When Death Comes’ said, “When it’s over, I want to say all my life / I was a bride married to amazement. / I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms …. I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”
Travelling when broken? I think it’s a fabulous idea. Just don’t drink eight strawberry daiquiris in one hour. It’s pretty shit.
Cover by Thomas Kelley